You wonder why people are so disillusioned, why so many have taken to downing fistfuls of Prozac like they're Tic-Tacs, and then you see this: Milton Berle has a new exercise video.
I thought the whole medium had pretty much scraped rock bottom when Zsa Zsa Gabor released her fitness tape ("Work Out With the Glamorous Zsa Zsa!") a while back.
At the time, Zsa Zsa was hardly in, ahem, tip-top physical condition. In fact, in her blue and white jumpsuit, she had the same sleek look as an offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys.
Plus her image was all wrong for an exercise video.
The heavy makeup, the gobs of jewelry, the faux aristocratic bearing, all of it screamed: This is a woman who's never even perspired, let alone worked up a good sweat.
But "Milton Berle's Low Impact/High Comedy Workout" is even more alarming, if that's possible, combining as it does the crushing boredom of aerobics with Uncle Miltie's patented cornball gags and tasteless skits. (In one, he plays a mincing Richard Simmons; in another, he's in drag as Jane Fonda, complete with cone-shaped breasts.
Believe me, after 10 minutes of this, you find yourself praying for "Saturday Night Live" and thinking: "Boy, that Adam Sandler's a scream!"
The Berle tape also breaks new ground by being the only workout video in recent memory in which the host does not do any of the exercises -- at least not in the promotional video I received.
For the record, Mr. Berle is 86 and appears to be in remarkably good shape, although his makeup is so thick he probably needs a Black & Decker sander to remove it.
But in the video, all Uncle Miltie does is wear a snappy-looking sweat suit and move through a room of exercising geezers while annoying the hell out of everyone with his goofy jokes. ("My wife and I make love almost every day of the week. Almost Monday, almost Tuesday . . . ")
There's no doubt which demographic the video is skewed to; at one point the instructor advises everyone to "Charleston right!" I kept scanning the rows of gyrating senior citizens to see if I could spot Walter Winchell.
There is also this sizzling, Mouseketeer-like repartee between the host and his workout buddies:
"Are you all ready for the workout?"
"I'd like you to meet our instructor, Merrily Smith. Merrily, are you ready to roll?"
"Yes, we are!"
"Then merrily we roll along!"
Yeah, we're talking real thigh-slappers here. If there's any justice in the world, this video sinks to the bottom of the sales charts like a cinder block dropping off a roof.
Nevertheless, there's big money in watching the famous sweat -- even the most junior varsity celebrity seems to have his or her own workout video.
The Berle and Gabor videos aside, perhaps the most grating is the Regis Philbin "My Personal Workout" video, in which the tiny talk show host huffs and puffs with "special guests" Kathie Lee Gifford, Joy Philbin and his show's geeky producer, Michael Gelman.
Even more unsettling is the picture that graces the back cover, which shows Regis lifting a dumb bell while wearing a -- steady now -- tank top.
Clearly, there are certain people who should never, ever wear a tank top. And Regis' name is at the top of the list, one below my name. In terms of fashion disasters, this is like seeing Ed McMahon in a thong.
Speaking of thongs, Angela Lansbury is not (thankfully) wearing one on her "Positive Moves" workout video.
Instead, the veteran actress appears on the cover in a modest sweat shirt-like garment while engaging in some kind of moody, intense, spread-armed, tai chi thing, which should scare away all but the most devoted (or addled) "Murder She Wrote" fans.
Speaking of moody and intense, David Carradine fans, who until now could only glimpse their stone-faced hero in re-run hell, have another reason to go on living: "Kung Fu Workout" ("The Fitness Program That Began 2,500 Years Ago.")
My only hope is that this doesn't signal a flood of exercise videos with hosts who are washed-up '70s TV stars, such as "Starsky and Hutch's Full-Tilt Boogie Workout."
Cher, Racquel Welch, Stefanie Powers, Mary Tyler Moore, Tanya Tucker, Marilu Henner . . . all have their own workout videos.
Even Wilt Chamberlain has a workout video, the aptly named "Cross Fitness For Active Lifestyles."
After all, who's more active than Wilt, the NBA Hall of Famer who claims to have bedded more than 10,000 (or is it 10 million) women?
You wonder where he finds the time to exercise.